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February 23, 2008
With team healing, as Trojans top Beavers
Think of those basketball games you played with your little brother. Usually, you would cut him some slack. You would let him dribble past you. You would give him some wide open looks underneath the basket. You might even have missed half your shots intentionally.
Now, imagine that instead of being charitable, you had used your two-foot height advantage to swat every shot he took. You powered through him for emphatic slams on the 7-foot hoop. You even called fouls when he got in your way without keeping his feet planted.
Then picture that 8,143 people were watching, and almost all of them were cheering for you. Then, you'd have USC 81, Oregon State 53, Saturday at the Galen Center.
The Trojans (17-9, 8-6 conference) held on to fourth place in the Pac-10, won their second game of the season minus Daniel Hackett (back and oblique injuries) and completed a season sweep of the Oregon schools. Four games remain until the conference tournament, with USC traveling to Arizona next week and closing out the regular season with visits from the Bay Area schools.
The Trojans need only one more victory for a .500 conference finish, which could be enough for an NCAA Tournament berth.
"I don't think we're there yet," coach Tim Floyd said of the Tournament. "I think we need to keep winning."
Meanwhile, Hackett is improving. He said he ran today, for the first time since the stress fracture in his lower back was diagnosed. He has a doctor's appointment Monday, which is also the first day he can attempt jump shots.
"I've just got to stay calm, relax, take it slowly," Hackett said.
Although it seems unlikely, he said he hopes to play "a couple of minutes" on Thursday at Arizona.
The Trojans' biggest scare from Saturday came early, when O.J. Mayo limped off the court, grabbing his left leg. He had tweaked his achilles tendon when he stepped on the back of Beaver guard Lathen Wallace's sneaker. Mayo returned several minutes later to lead USC with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
"I'll ice it tomorrow, get some treatment, and I'll be ready to go on Monday for practice," he said.
Since his four-point, 10-turnover performance against UCLA last weekend, Mayo has scored 53 points and committed five turnovers in two games.
"I told the coaches that we don't even need to worry about him," Floyd said. "He's a great competitor ... and has the best skill package of any guy I've ever coached, and may have more pride than anybody I've ever coached.
"I wasn't worried about him. I knew he'd come back and play."
Saturday, USC's seldom-used bench saw plenty of time, led by Marcus Simmons, who entered for Mayo early. Simmons, a freshman guard, had not played since Jan. 24 because of a sprained left ankle. Since the preseason, he has been bothered, off-and-on, by the injury. Continually, he has returned, only to tweak it again.
Following the victory, Simmons laced up his bulky walking boot with a smile.
"I didn't feel it that much," he said of the ankle. "I hope I can (continue to) get in, help the team."
He had four points and five rebounds in 16 minutes, and he gave the Trojans a scholarship guard off the bench for the first time since Hackett went out.
"I thought it was great that we could get him on the floor," Floyd said. "I thought he handled those minutes really well."
Reserves combined for only 13 points in 65 minutes, helping the Beavers narrow the deficit, somewhat. Dwight Lewis scored 14 points, Taj Gibson had 12 and Angelo Johnson scored 13, shooting 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
Marcel Jones led Oregon State with 15 points. The Beavers shot 33.8-percent from the floor, including 22.6 in first half, when they fell behind 43-16.
USC shot 49.1 percent from the field and 55 percent from 3-point range. The Trojans out-rebounded OSU 43-35, marking the first time in conference play that they have out-rebounded consecutive opponents.
"They're all important in this league," Floyd said. "Our guys, I thought, handled the game maturely."
Jonathan Kay can be reached at [email protected]